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UW’s Native Garden fostering community, sustainability among students

Published on May 11, 2022

At the Center for Urban Horticulture, UW student and food sovereignty liaison, Sarai Mayer is helping community members to learn more about indigenous practices of working the land. But the urban farm is also about access. "Giving people access to make these foods, to have these foods," says Mayer. Image Credit: University of Washington Botanic Gardens

The UW Native Garden is a place for indigenous students to share their culture and community to learn about combining tradition with modern techniques.

A garden in the corner of the UW Farm at the Center for Urban Horticulture is offering a space for growth and learning, with volunteers invited to be part of the process.

Sarai Mayer, food sovereignty liaison at the UW Native Garden, became involved with the project while working toward her double degree in plant biology and anthropology.

“I’m trying to get a doctorate in ethnobotany,” said Mayer. “I’m really interested in research around indigenous science and knowing more of the relationship between plants and humans and really studying plants through a cultural lens.”

Mayer’s role is to manage the garden, work with the community to determine what to grow and how to grow it, and help volunteers learn techniques to work the land together.

“We’re trying to get people involved with the garden so they can learn about indigenous practices, ways that we work with the land,” said Mayer. “It’s also about giving access. Giving people access to make these foods, to have these foods.”

Mayer said the crops harvested from the garden are shared, helping to reduce food security. Meanwhile, working in the garden helps indigenous students reconnect with their cultures, combining traditional methods with modern methods. This helps other students learn those techniques too.

“We need to be looking into sustainability and these practices – they work with the land, with the ecosystem,” said Mayer. “The way mounds work is the corn, squash and beans are all working together to fix nitrogen, to provide stability, and it’s all encompassed in each mound. So, it’s very efficient to get a lot of food.”

Mayer said thinking in this way is crucial when considering the impacts of climate change and drought. Adapting to conditions and empowering an ecosystem where everything can thrive can help all crops in each mound.

“It makes you feel closer and I really like that aspect… it’s something that’s not just for the native community, it’s for the larger community,” said Mayer. “It’s showing how indigenous and native practices and values can be shared and should be shared.”

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Originally written by Erica Zucco for King5 News
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